Leaving out women philosophers creates gaps

I’m taking advantage of an opportunity to post here on gaps in the history of philosophy or, more particularly, on a project that is said to proceed to lay out the history of philosophy without gaps.  I’m writing in the persona of a historian.

Reader MD brought to FP’s attention the podcast website from Kings’ College, London, which claims it will cover the entire history of philosophy.  The “No Gaps” logo is very prominent.  However, a feminist philosopher might well start to worry early on. In addition to the name of Peter Abramson, the lead academic, there are a lot of other names on the site:  those working on background music and editing, those advising on content and those whose work is cited for background reading.  And they are all male, as far as I can see.  The point here is not to chide anyone for this all-male start up.  Rather, the question that needs to be pressed is whether this male crew will spot the gap that is so obvious to so many women.

There are two areas where women’s names particularly need to go in.  One is with historical philosophers, and the other with the background commentators.  Fortunately, Feminist Philosophers has some good resources for the first.  A recent FP post that conveyed a request from a reader lead to a large number of comments on distinguished women to be included in a course.  For example, from Cynofish we got:

I’ve published some work on Hume and in the course of my research have developed an interest in woman philosophers of the early modern period. Jacqueline Broad’s book ‘Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century’ is a really interesting read. It’s an account of the intellectual role that six female philosophers – Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, Damaris Cudworth Masham and Catharine Trotter Cockburn – played in the seventeenth century. In addition to Princess Elizabeth’s correspondence with Descartes, Broad critically discusses Margarent Cavendish’s writings on Descartes and Hobbes, Anne Conway’s writings on Descartes and Spinoza, Astell’s writings about Descartes, Malebranche and Locke, Damaris Masham’s correspondence with Locke and Leibniz and Catharine Trotter Cockburn’s defence of some of the views of Locke and Samuel Clarke.

It is equally important to include more recent women commentators, of whom a large number are very distinguished.  Not only is the quality of work by women very high, but also some of the issues they draw to our attention are not easily found in the men’s literature. 

One of these issues is very obvious in my field, Hume Studies, and it was very much noticed at the 2010 Hume Society meeting in Antwerp.  We can see the issue as drawn earlier in Annette Baiers “Commons of the Mind.”  There she notes that Descartes thinks reason is whole and entire in each of us, and she takes Hume to have rejected this view, as she herself does.  Jackie Taylor’s work on the essential contributions of the community to moral normativity was referred to a number of times at the conference.  Further, in my own discussion of the possibly skeptical Part IV of Bk I of the Treatise, I had to point out that Garrett’s admiring use of Annette’s work gets her wrong on just this point.  He takes Hume as thinking what while the community is a help, the mind itself has sufficient resources to critique itself.

I don’t think one needs to be any sort of gender essentialist to see that women commentators on Hume are much more likely than men to see how  kind of constitutive normativity is socially situated.  Equally, in leaving out the women we will loose this theme.

There are many other resources for recent commentary by women.  One is the series editied by Nancy Tuana on Rereading the Canon, from Penn State Press.  Margaret Wilson’s brilliant essays are gathered in an anthology; her essay on primary/secondary qualities places in question some of the sceptical readings that have limited so much of our understanding of early modern philosophy. 

I find lists of names potentially invideous, though people commenting here are welcome to mention them.  But I do want to bring to the podcasts attention an Aussie they might overlook:  Genevieve Lloyd, whose Man of Reason is a classic and whose whose work on Spinoza is first-rate.

How not to do an equality impact assessment…

We’ve blogged before about the obligation on public authorities in the UK to conduct Equality Impact Assessments on their decisions, which the Fawcett Society is testing in its judicial review case on the Government’s emergency budget.  Well, now we’ve had the Comprehensive Spending Review, and – ooh!  Surprise!  They’ve done an equality impact assessment.

But it’s not good. For now, I’m going to leave it to my good friend ‘In Wales’ over at eurotrib to comment, but here’s my favourite of the quotations she pulled out:

In order to understand the impact of changes in benefits and tax credits on men and women it is necessary to know how families share their income between themselves and their children (if any). It is not enough to simply know the gender of the claimant. It is therefore difficult to assess the impact on gender equality of changes to Child Benefit, which is paid to an individual claimant on behalf of the child, and not for the personal benefit of the claimant; as well as changes to tax credits which are paid on a household basis.

Oh right!  Child benefit is paid for the benefit of the *child*, so the fact that we know women often do much of the work of caring – including the financial work of budgeting for the children’s needs – is kind of irrelevant.

As In Wales comments,

They’ve done an EIA, it just isn’t a robust or good one, and it is shifting the responsibility over to the authorities who will have to implement the cuts.

Bravo.  Fairness and equality, only if you can afford it.